What appealed to me throughout my youth about my semi-nomadic life, and what suited me to the Peace Corps and the Peace Corps to me, are exactly the same things that appeal to me now about settling down in the country.   Among several little things, most crucially, it has forced me to keep reinventing my wheel.

Travel and continually moving requires an enormous amount of self-sufficiency, just like living in the country.  Relocating to new countries, usually with little language skills and no friends, requires humility as much as resourcefulness.  The face you are presenting to strangers is at one moment a vagabond in sandals with a backpack, at another moment a serious teacher in glasses and collared shirt.  Some see a romantic adventure-seeker exploring the world, others see a spoiled youth avoiding real work.  You are forced to come to terms with your self-image and how closely it comes to what others are able or willing to see.

In general, people tend not to trust wanderers.    Travel, or move, and the first question you get is, “Where are you from?”  And if you can’t answer that satisfactorily, then in the country, especially in the South, the question becomes, “Where are your people from?”  That always makes me wonder, which people?  My parents, my grandparents, my ancestors?  The list where my people are from is very long, how much time do you have?  I am a mutt, like the majority of Americans.    My people fought against each other in wars not so long ago.  My people both settled this country and were annihilated by those settlers.  My people only have one thing in common as far as I can tell:  They became very good at continually reinventing their wheels.  They were farmers and pioneers and businessmen and criminals.  They were Protestant, and Christian Science, and polytheistic and atheist; how many more contradictions can there be among my people?  So, you don’t say this, but you find more and better ways to get others to trust you, while simultaneously learning not to need people so much.

Traveling transforms your concept of time, just like living in the country.  Now both certainly less than they used to, but still.  In the country strangers will talk to you for hours about folks you’ve never met.  No one is in a hurry, ever, at least from what I’ve seen so far.  Life moves at the pace of nature, not the pace of man.  Similarly, what do you do sitting at the train station for four hours?  Or on the bus for 14?  You watch people, you talk to strangers,  you read, you think.  What do you do in your new city with no friends and no TV?  You read and you think some more; you find new and different ways to pass the time.  You find yourself associating with people you would have never met, or chosen to meet before, maybe even enjoyably socializing with them. Maybe you write long letters to your friends and family back home, because in those days there were no internet cafés and all correspondence was either snail-mail or public phones.  Maybe you are alone so often that you get good at writing those letters, and people start to say you should become a writer.

Traveling requires constant simplifying, as do our efforts now in the country.  That means continually whittling everything down to necessity, even happiness becomes defined down to the bare essentials.  What do you really need in that backpack or suitcase?  What little things bring you the most pleasure?  And when you are once again taking the rest of your belongings out of the storage shed or your friends’ or parent’s basement, you realize, again and again, how little of it you need, or even want.

Ten years ago living out here would have felt like the world’s worst punishment to me, now it feels like life’s greatest luxury.  Our realities in city or country, in wandering or settling down, seem light years apart, but are surprisingly similar.

Change your surroundings, change your influences and you begin to change.  Your self-image broadens, and with that, your possibilities and your limitations are continually highlighted.  At some point along your path you realize that reinventing the wheel is not reinvention at all, but rather, refinement.